Operation Snowy Beach

Frank Garavelli

Joe Bastardi has a short daily and extended Saturday weather blog that is free to the public.  Weatherbell is a company that makes long range forecast for clients.  Anyway, the other day he was talking about a winter storm in 1952 that his father drove through.  It reminded me about the storm we hit off the coast of Maine in 1972.  I decided to email him and ask if he had any info on it.  I’ll forward you his response next.

Joe Bastardi replied: That was the monster FEB 18-20 1972. It's a very famous storm.


Gene Buterbaugh

I remember the storm. When exactly I don't know, it was in 1972 though it may be just before spring (February, March). We left port for Moorehead City for a four day exercise with the Marines.

After a few days we were dispatched suddenly to Maine to a state park. The Hermitage was sent to recover a sunken landing craft with drums of oil aboard. We were selected because we had cranes large enough to recover the craft. What I'm not sure of is, if this was the time that a number of the crew that were to be discharged soon, were sent ashore on the landing craft (Amphibious Tracked Landing Craft) before we left Moorehead City. It seems to be the only time that makes sense. I think Rolon MM3 (the other guy in the photo lab with Aaron) may have been in that group.

The Hermitage went straight to Maine and anchored for at least a week or two while divers searched for the wreck, and every day we received the same update "the Divers are in 300 feet of water and can only see three feet". Then one morning the orders changed. Before the Chief could say a word, we were being tossed around in the Machine shop (indoors quarters) and the PA said set sea and anchor detail now.

We were told that a bad storm is on its' way and we headed to the North Atlantic to out run it. The seas got rougher and it got colder. B, M, and E divisions had ice buildup (1/4 inch thick or so) on the uninsulated portion of the inside walls (about a foot from the deck surface to where the insulation started). The boiler room usually a nice (120+) degrees in the Med had ice sickles hanging from the air vents, and everyone wore work coats. When you got off watch you would find all your blankets gone. Finally they opened the stores and handed out extra blankets.

In the boiler room we had to retie everything down. Things that never moved were moving. When you slept you had to hang on. Then one night we took a roll like I never felt, a locker sounded like it broke loose. I didn't sleep, I just hung on, bad thing about a top rack. I was told the next day that we took a roll within 1 degree of maximum.

During the storm no one went above deck. My friend Mike and I opened a door into the well deck to look out. The stern of the ship would rise into the sky and than the ship would vibrate, propellers would start coming out of the water. Than the stern would go down and you could see the ocean and and nothing but ocean with a large waves crashing over the top of the well deck (tail gave). And yes, at that point I was scared because this just kept going on, for several days.

"I'll never forget that storm I thought we were going to die, and that is no joke.  Thank God that the Bailey feed water system worked perfectly on both boilers."

Gene Buterbaugh BT2 1970 to 1974

Rudy Smith

When that happened there were two 2nd Class BT's.  E. J. Black and myself (Rudy Smith


Tom Gordon

I do remember this storm very well. Gene's comments were very accurate. We were with two minesweepers during our tiff off the coast of Maine. Both of those ships were nearly lost during the storm, one lost power and a tug had to come and tow it back to Boston. The other sweeper had serious problems as well.

I do remember one of those ships had just gotten a line on the sunken landing craft the day before the storm it and had to cut that line when the storm hit. We were out to sea and off the coast for 21 days straight. We had to have food flown in several times.

Yes, the Hermitage did toss and turn a lot that night. I do remember that we headed north of Nova Scotia to get out of the storm. I was never so happy when the ship finally turned in the middle of the night and went with the storm. I do wish that I had taken pictures o the ship the next day. That is all I can remember.

Tom Gordon HT3

John Campbell

QM John Campbell informs that it was called Operation Snowy Beach. He writes:

View from the bridge….

No one could forget that storm.....

I'm in the pilot house. 60 feet above the water line I was looking up at waves above the trough.
Watches on the signal deck were standing 10 minutes and puking in their hats. Minus 20 wind chill factors.

What no one will ever know is the anxiety on the bridge counting wave sets to determine when to come about without sinking the tub on a bad roll or stuffing the boilers (perhaps wrong terminology). Drowning and killing us all. The helmsman was sweating bullets even in the freeze.

The worst thing was asking the captain if he had ever been in a storm such as this and he said, "No." HE SHOULD NOT HAVE SAID THAT IN MY BOOK!


Dennis Dare

I have read with interest the accounts of the storm off Maine and wanted to share my memories of the event.  As I recall the Hermitage set off on a 30 day cruise from Little Creek.  We picked up the Marines at  Morehead City and headed to Gitmo to discharge them.  I believe we made a port call in San Juan and then headed home to Little Creek.  We got word of our new assignment just a day before port and left the wives on the pier as we headed north to the coast of Maine and Acadia National Park.  Since the Navy knew the landing craft worked well in warm weather in Vietnam, the purpose of the exercise as I recall was to see how they performed in cold weather.  Well, one sunk and the mission was to raise it to see why it sunk.  (turns out they drain valve plug was not installed when it left the beach)  The Herm acted as a support vessel for the salvage vessels and did a fine job for several weeks.  

As the Captain's Yeoman I did the POD most days and was told to run a piece about hypothermia every day because we were so close to land it seemed like you should be able to swim ashore.  We had helicopters bringing in supplies and mail but it was a long couple of days.  Every time the divers seemed to get close  a  storm came through and we had to bring up the three point anchors and head out to sea to ride it out.  We finally got relieved and headed home but it was a long and trying time. 

Dennis Dare YN3 

John Garrison

Three of the people that got off the ship before it went to Maine were Ray Hunt MM2, Edward Broome MM2 and John Garrison MM2. It was quite the ride from the well deck to the beach. The reason for the ride was that we were being discharged. If we went to Maine they would have to pay us extra and that was not going to happen.

John Garrison


Bill Baetzel

What I am about to recount is my memory of things that happened 44 years ago so I apologize in advance for any errors. In February 1972 the Hermitage was sent to Sheepscot Bay, Maine along with two ARSs (rescue and salvage ships) to locate and retrieve a LARC (lighter, amphibious resupply, cargo) landing craft. The word was that the LARC belonged to the U. S. Army and had sunk during practice landing exercises. I don't know the names of the ARSs but they were probably out of Little Creek because there were some rescue and salvage ships homeported at Little Creek. (As an aside, divers from the same type of ship; the USS Grasp ARS-51, located the fuselage of the plane that crashed in July 1999 killing John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and his wife's sister.)

The Hermitage and the ARSs were anchored in fairly close proximity to one another. The ARSs were anchored on a four point moor system which is common practice for ships of that size. We had been at anchor for a few days during which time the divers on the ARS's looked for the LARC and the Hermitage stood by, waiting to raise the LARC using one of it's two cranes. As the weather turned rough, I'm assuming plans were being made to weigh anchor and get away from the shoreline. The sudden scramble for all hands to go to sea and anchor detail happened because one ARS broke loose from it's four point moor and was drifting toward the bow of the Hermitage. I was a SN assigned to First Division so my sea and anchor detail station, along with most of the rest of the personnel in First Division, was on the forecastle. When we got to the forecastle, the ship was pitching fore and aft and icy water was shooting through the hawsepipes like spouting geysers, washing over the deck and all personnel present. Nobody had rain gear so we were getting soaked to the skin with icy salt water. The ARS that broke loose from it's mooring was within a few hundred yards of the Hermitage and closing with each wave. I think everyone was hoping there would be no collision, especially the CO, CDR Walsh. We quickly got the anchor raised and secured the penguin hooks, the HT's locked the anchor windlass and we all got safely inside the ship without a collision. The Hermitage was underway and headed out to sea.

Looking back on that storm, I realize how lucky we were to survive it. I remember standing on the forward covered section of the starboard well deck catwalk watching walls of dark gray water raise high above the ship and wash over the wingwalls and into the well deck. While I was standing on the catwalk, I noticed the ships forklift on the cargo deck start to jerk as the ship rolled from side to side. The tie downs which secured the forklift to the cargo deck had worked loose and each time the ship rolled, the tie downs got a little looser. Finally, one after another, the tie downs popped off and the forklift fell on it's side. Then as the ship continued to roll, the forklift slid from port to starboard two or three times until one huge roll sent it flying into a towering wave. The forklift punched a hole in that wall of frigid gray water and disappeared.

Another incident I recall during the storm was trying to secure the large (50 ton capacity) crane hook located near the port stack. The hook was stored in a cradle surrounded by a support frame and cage. The large hook was interchangeable with a smaller 10 ton capacity hook and was kept in the cradle when not attached to the crane cable. The large hook had worked loose and was banging back and forth against the frame. The ship was rolling, it was snowing, the deck was very slick and CWO Boatswain Lawrence was trying to secure the crane hook with a chain or something like it. Every time the hook would slam against one side of the frame, Bosun Lawrence would try to tighten the chain around the hook but before it was possible to do so, the ship rolled and the hook shifted smashing against another side of the frame and taking the chain along for a ride. There were several deck force personnel working with Bosun Lawrence but I don't remember who they were. After a while, it was determined that it was not possible to secure the hook and it was too dangerous to be on deck. Fortunately nobody was hurt and the hook survived the storm. The only casualty was the frame and cage which took a good beating.

A final memory. One of the meals during the storm included canned peaches. As the ship rolled, a number of ship's personnel were getting sick on the mess decks and peach syrup was spilling from chow trays. Between the vomit and the spilled peach syrup it was slippery walking on the mess decks but far better than being outside. I'm just glad I wasn't mess cooking at that time. My hat's off to the cooks and mess cooks for keeping the galley going throughout the storm.